Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith and her book "Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity" at her office in Anniston.

“How are you today?”

Whether it’s a coworker asking, a classmate, a friendly cashier or a cashier who couldn’t care less if you actually answer, a door has been opened to you. This is your chance to tell someone how excited you are about the rare albino squirrel you’ve seen running around your backyard for the past few weeks.

But instead you give a slight yawn, eyelids drooping as if you might fall asleep right then and there. “Not bad,” you reply. “Just tired.”

With all the interesting and terrible things happening in the world, our conversations always seems to circle back to how tired we are.

It’s our default response. If you can’t think of anything else, just talk about how you haven’t been sleeping well, or how you’ve been so busy that your Netflix watch list is backed up for miles.

This constant state of burn-out is something most people can relate to. But the question then becomes: Why are we all so tired all the time?

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a local internal medicine physician and award-winning author, has dedicated her career to not only healing others medically, but helping them work through emotional and stress-related disorders to find ways to live their best lives.

In her 2017 book “Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity,” she describes the seven types of rest that humans need — physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, sensory, social and creative — and how getting an adequate amount of each can improve your health, happiness and many other aspects of your life.

Dalton-Smith was featured as the opening speaker at TEDxAtlanta’s 10-year anniversary event in March. The theme was “Ctrl+Alt+Del,” and speakers had a chance to shed light on pressing issues affecting humanity. In her presentation on rest, Dalton-Smith began by explaining the difference between getting rest and getting sleep.

“Most of us have combined the concept of sleep and rest as if they’re the same thing,” she said. “So we say that we’ve ‘rested’ when we go to sleep, but we still wake up feeling exhausted. Sleep is just one type of physical rest. When we combine those two, we leave out those six of the other types of rest that we need.”

1. Physical rest

In physical rest, you’re using your body in restorative way to decrease any kind of physical displeasure you may feel. This includes decreasing muscle tension, reducing headaches and promoting higher quality sleep.

2. Spiritual rest

Spiritual rest is the capacity to experience God in all things and recline in the knowledge of the Holy. However, it does not always involve religion directly. It emphasizes connectedness, and engaging in something greater than yourself.

“It’s that connection that’s beyond the physical and mental state,” Dalton-Smith said. “It’s a deep sense of belonging, purpose, love and acceptance. You have a connection with your ‘why’ in the world. For many people, that’s accomplished through prayer and meditation.”

3. Mental rest

Mental rest boils down to being able to turn off the excess noise in your brain and focus only on things that matter. If you find it hard to concentrate, or you can’t fall asleep at night because conversations from the day are constantly replaying in your head, you may be in a mental rest deficit and need to find downtime to quiet your mind.

4. Emotional rest

In her TedxAtlanta talk, Dalton-Smith described a person in an emotional rest deficit. This person is often a “people-pleaser” who hates confrontation and is afraid to say no. That can leave them feeling unimportant and taken advantage of. Through proper emotional rest, you are able to freely express your feelings and answer truthfully when someone asks how you are. A deficit in this area often coexists with a social rest deficit.

5. Social rest

This kind of rest emphasizes taking time to be around people who revive you, and limiting time with those who exhaust you, or “toxic relationships.”

6. Creative rest

Creative rest serves to reawaken the childlike wonder inside of us. “A lot of times, people will start feeling as if they don't have any joy anymore,” Dalton-Smith said. “They lose their ability to be innovative. They have a hard time brainstorming, or they have this sort of listlessness about their work. And they think they just need a vacation, but what they actually need is creative rest.” This can mean decorating your workspace with art that you like, or spending time appreciating the beauty in nature.

7. Sensory rest

In our overstimulating world, sensory overload comes easier than ever. We often don’t realize how long we’ve been staring at  a screen, and how the constant exposure to these bright lights and background noises are affecting us. “This can easily be avoided by something as simple as closing your eyes for a few moments in the middle of your busy day,” Dalton-Smith said. She also recommends intentionally unplugging from your electronics.

A lot of people are unaware that these many different types of rest even exist, so it’s easy to neglect them. Dalton-Smith created a free online rest quiz in which you answer questions about your daily life and activities. Once you finish the assessment, you are emailed a breakdown of how you rank in each category of rest.

“People say ‘I’m tired’ all the time, but they don’t know what type of tired they are,” Dalton-Smith said. “Where is it that you’re using the energy that is leaving you feeling exhausted? With the quiz, you can see which type of rest you’re not getting enough of and put your attention there.

“We have to start thinking that rest equals restoration,” Dalton-Smith said. “In resting, you’re restoring something specific that you’ve used throughout your day. And it’s not optional. It’s not like the book on the bookshelf that you get to when you have time. If you want to be your most effective and productive, then you have to create time for rest.”